Ministers are considering sacrificing part of the Education Bill that will allow schools to increase selection to ensure that tough new measures on discipline become law.
With discipline pushed to the top of the political agenda following the disputes at The Ridings in Calderdale and Manton junior school in Nottinghamshire, they might drop selection from the Bill, making it a manifesto commitment. The rethink comes as the Government is under pressure from its own backbenches to beef up measures against unruly pupils, with at least two MPs preparing to table amendments to bring back corporal punishment.
It knows Labour will fight against clauses in the Bill that will allow schools to select up to 50 per cent of their pupils and give grant-maintained schools the power to expand and introduce sixth forms, nurseries and boarding facilities without ministerial approval. The Opposition, however, is in broad agreement with other parts of the Bill.
Education ministers are negotiating with party managers on how to play the Bill, which gets its second reading in the House of Commons on Monday. It is one of two significant pieces of legislation the Government wants to have on the statute book before the general election and will be competing for parliamentary time against the Home Secretary's controversial Crime Bill which seeks to introduce minimum sentences for persistent burglars and drug dealers.
Selection is one of the four main measures in the 72-clause Education Bill and was the Department for Education and Employment's attempt to fulfil John Major's dream of a grammar school in every large town. If dropped from the Bill, it will become a central part of the education manifesto.
This week, James Pawsey, chairman of the Conservative back-bench education committee, was drafting an amendment to allow home-school contracts to include corporal punishment. Tony Marlow, Tory MP for Northampton North, will try to amend the Bill to allow governors to introduce corporal punishment.